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Farewell to a Friendship

separating hands

Three times in my adult life I have made the painful, difficult decision to end a long term close (I had thought) friendship.  There is fault on both sides, but particularly with regard to the last one which came to a head last year, it reached the point where I came to realise not only had it been toxic for some time for me but that I was a toxic presence in my former friend’s (hereafter FF) life.  It was thanks to the information received from mutual friends that I realised the toxicity was reciprocated.

I had tried very hard to try speak about the problems with my FF, to come to a solution, only to be blocked in every attempt.  Texts were stopped, pages were blocked, conversations started by both of us were ended by my FF sometimes mid-flow.  I am sure my FF would say the same.  In every situation there is grey, and in the slow-burn ending of a previously very close friendship, there will be more grey than anything else.  I am trying not to blame, and this is a difficult process.  We are both responsible, and for the sake of my mental health, I have to accept there will be no closure, no understanding, no peaceful truce or clear cut-off.  I will never be able to be understood.

This is only the third time in my life I have made myself take a final decision, and I have been on the planet for nearly 50 years.  Even then in the latter case I only took the decision because everything came to a head as a result of a conversation with a mutual friend; it could have been a situation that went on for a far longer time to the detriment of us both.

The previous friendships ended when I realised that neither person actually knew who I was as a person, despite our long and deep conversations over many years.  Their understanding of me was based on a misconceived and false image that they had projected onto me.  I did not recognise the person they assumed I was.  I even checked this out with other friends, so confused was I by this massive misunderstanding of my character.  The situation was not fair to me and made me realise the friendship itself was not real but a fantasy.  I was ending a friendship that had already disappeared, in all three cases.

Even now, many months after stepping back from my FF, I still find myself hoping that maybe something could change, but when the lines of communication have been shut down by the other person and when that other person is triggered by my presence, my word, by their misunderstanding of me, then there is little I can do, and I do not want to cause further harm to my FF by any attempt to do so.

This decision has been years in the making, I realise now.  Neither of us know the people we have become, and to each other we are now strangers, strangers who were once non-blood siblings.

It happens, but my goodness it hurts.  More than the loss of a lover, the loss of a friend causes a grief that chokes me.  I cannot think of them without wistful mourning, without wishing to know they are well in spite of their lack of knowledge of me.

It hurts because they didn’t know me and they showed it.  I spoke my truth and shared my secrets and still they did not understand the core of my being.  That must be as much my aversion to conflict and therefore to correcting when I noticed, if I noticed.  I do place the responsibility in my corner because it was from my corner I came out to fight for myself, my identity and the reality of who I am, and in moving out from that corner I was backed into I made the decision to end the friendships.

I have no idea how they feel about me now, or even if I feature in their thoughts at all.  They still feature in mine, and most kindly now.  The hurt they caused has faded and the memories of how close we once were remain.  There was love there, once.  That is enough for me to have fondness and hopes for their future.

heart not life

I made the right decision, I know that.  The right decision is often the hardest decision, but for the sake of myself and my FFs, it is one I had to make.

If they see this, and if they recognise themselves, I hope they realise I do still carry love for them and always will.  It’s just that love is not enough, in any relationship, without truth.

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Family Tree: Genealogy Is A White Privilege

Family Tree image

At this point, my tree is a forest!

I have been researching my family tree almost obsessively since I signed up to Ancestry.co.uk (other sites are available, probably) two years ago and spent 100 hours in one week having masses of fun.  It was Yulemas week off work and my beloved Sooterkin™ was playing with his PS4 (not a euphemism), so what’s a person to do…?

I have found ancestors back to beyond 500 AD on at least one line because I got lucky and hit a line of Scottish nobility which then led to Kings (I come from a lot of second sons, daughters married off and those born on the wrong side of the blanket as t’were).  Apparently those of Viking Ancestry like to trace back to Odin, so I am ‘officially’ descended from his brother/son Baldur.  I have also got a line back to William the Bastard Conqueror, and his line like to trace back to the Christian God, so I have that deity too.  Wahay, I’m doubly mythical!

This addiction was partly inspired by “Who Do You Think You Are?”, a fabulous BBC TV series which traces the roots of famous people and tells the stories of individual experience through history using this medium.  It was a programme about Noel Clarke (series 14 ep. 8), a fantastic actor/director/writer/producer, which stopped me in my tracks.

Noel Clarke is descended from people trafficked into slavery in the United States.  His line, and the line of many, many black people in the UK, United States and across the world, cannot be traced further back than that.  It ends.  This is what it means to people now; I as a white person of privilege in the UK can merrily trace my ancestry back far beyond where I thought I would, and he and so many others cannot.

Researching my family tree and seeing results is a privilege of my skin colour.  Yes, I do have a lot of very poor people in my tree, from the 1700 and 1800s onwards.  But they are recorded in parish registries, they have birth, baptism and death records, they have paper trails, they are human beings with all the individual right to exist that that entails.

DNA test results

Not even a hint of Celt from the west! Although I can trace back to Picts, so there’s that…

I also obtained my DNA history through the site, and received possibly the least surprising result ever, to me anyway.  I am so Anglo-Saxon it hurts.  I am an amalgam of immigration way back when, which confirms my ‘right’ to be and claim to be ‘English’, as I am sure many racists would be insistent upon.  To me, it confirms I am steeped in white privilege.  To others, it should mean nothing at all but it does because of racism; institutional, systemic and individual acts of racism.

Noel Clarke was eventually able to trace his roots back to Ghana, through the music and dance his ancestors on the tiny Caribbean Island of Carriacou would hold onto through the years of slavery, and after freedom was granted.  He knew the location of his ancestors before they were ripped from their lives to become little more than chattels to enrich the white western world.  I know the names of my ancestors because I was lucky enough to be born white in that rich white western world.

Researching one’s family tree and being able to obtain results is a privilege, one that I don’t think would really occur to anyone who is white.  One’s personal family history is a privilege to be able to know and that saddens me.  The effects of slavery are very long-reaching; time does not lessen the impact, just hides it from plain view.

An Atheist’s Appreciation of Christians

As a friend/family member emotionally blackmailed into reading loyal and avid reader of my blog, you will know that I am an atheist.  I have not always been an atheist; from the age of four until I was 16 I attended a Methodist church near my home every Sunday, and from 16 until I reached 18 I went to an Evangelical church based in various school halls and community centres in my home town.  I taught 4-6 year olds in Sunday school from aged 12 to 16; however even at that age I wasn’t keen on indoctrinating children so used to tell the stories as fantasy tales, and get into the arts and crafts-ing with them rather than push ‘god’ onto them.

I was a nascent activist from around the age of 8, enthusiastically joining in whatever Save the Seals/Elephants/Tigers etc. project Blue Peter was doing at the time, and can remember early political awakenings at age 6 and 9 when in Saudi Arabia* and Trinidad** respectively.

I lost my Christian faith quite early on.  I have yet to lose my love of (the vast majority of) Christians.

It was whilst watching Miriam Margoyles’ final episode of her BBC1 documentary Miriam’s Big American Adventure, in which she tried to understand the USA that elected Donald Trump, that I was reminded of my love of those who are Christians with a small ‘c’.  She met a family who subscribe to the ‘quiverfull’ branch of the Christian faith, a particularly patriarchal and strict denomination of evangelism.  They believe in creationism, and believe it is more valid as a theory of human evolution that, well, evolution.  They believe that it is a human duty to produce as many children as possible, as an ‘army for God’.  They believe that the man, the husband, the father, is the person who is dominant and that the wife should submit in all decisions.

This does not mean that the wife should not get a say and that there is no discussion, and whilst it is seen as a wife’s duty to submit to her husband sexually, this does not mean that she does not have the ability to say no.  It is more that she should not want to, but still can.

Whilst I have many problems personally with this ideology (and that is for another blog), if it is a lifestyle that is freely and openly chosen (based upon informed educated choice) by all the participants then as far as I am concerned, go for it.

The family on the documentary stated they encouraged their children to question (whilst being home-schooled and restricted in their access to information, so there is a problem with informed choice already) and would not reject or stop loving their children if they rejected Christianity, or were lesbian/gay (whilst still believing it is a sin).  Most of all, the sadness they feel at those of us who are not Christian is not that of someone trying to convert others to Christianity, but the sadness of someone who believes wholeheartedly in goodness and empathy, in caring for the community, and that they found their path to this goodness and empathy through their Christian faith.

They believe their goodness and charity comes from their faith.

I believe it comes from their morality, which although formed through their faith is actually representative of them as people.  I believe morality comes through empathy and understanding, and that whilst the Christian believes it is reached externally, I believe it comes from within.

I have no idea if this family is a fair representation of Quiverfull religious people, and have a feeling from my research that it may not be.  There is a disproportionately high number of incidents reported of abuse and oppression in such families (have a google and prepare to be shocked and disgusted).

However, what this particular family and Ms Margolyes reaction to them reminded me of was how lovely, how caring, how giving and how wonderful Christian-identifying people can be.

The reason I stayed at Church far beyond the period in which I believed was because of the people.  Because of the love and joy I was surrounded by, the idealism of caring and sharing and lifting people up.  Mine were inclusive churches; I had a female vicar at the Methodist Church, and at least one gay locum vicar (if that’s the word!) during my time there.  The “happy clappies” as I know them were a hugely mixed variety of people brought together by their love of God and Christ, but also (and in the main) by their love of humanity.

They practised what was preached.  They did not judge, they did not presume, they used their love of Christ to be the example to them of how they would wish to act.  I continue to be extremely fond of my time at the Church and of the people I met there and still miss them in many ways.

However, I stopped going to Church because I stopped believing and because I cannot get past the inherently patriarchal system of organised religion, and because I simply don’t believe in any form of deity.  I felt to continue attending would be hypocritical of me and I would be deceiving those at the Church whose faith was honest and true, and I cared for them enough not to wish to be deceitful.

Christianity (and, indeed, any religion but Christianity is the one I have experience within) can be such a force for good.  It can be the impetus for truly loving behaviour.  It should be.  There is bad in every religion, people who exploit faith for their own gain, who desire power over their fellow humans.  That is a problem for all faiths in extremism.  The further into extremism one gets, the less true to the faith a person appears to be.

As an Atheist I have a deep love and respect for the Christians I know and I know they have a deep love and respect for me, too.  We are all humans, and ultimately that love and respect is the lesson Christ intended, whether you believe he was the son of God or simply that the man who existed to be known as Jesus Christ was a very loving, caring teacher and leader.

Group hug!

* Saudi Arabia – when I was 6 I stayed with my parents in Saudi; I was entranced by the heavy coat wearing locals when I was in shorts and a vest top.  My most enduring memory, however, is of a girl who must have been about 12, hugging a younger boy, who I remember seemed to be my own age, to her as she held her hand out to passers-by to beg for money.  She had several fingers missing or foreshortened.  She was dirty, ragged and thin.  I saw myself in her, and remember vividly the shock and sadness I felt at her situation.  It made such an impression that it remains with me still; when I close my eyes, I still see her.

** Trinidad – aged 9 and staying with my beloved Aunty B and her family, as her husband was working out there for a contractors firm.  She employed a domestic servant.  I cannot remember who was driving the car, but I was taken to visit her home, and her children.  I remember the concrete platform on which a large one-room concrete building with corrugated roof rested; the goats tethered nearby and the children sitting around as it was early evening.  The mountains behind the hut were pointed out, and I was told the children walked over this, for over two hours a day, to get to school.  It left a deep and lasting impact and I know is a foundation stone in forming the person I am today.

Whitesplaining: Sit Down and Shut Up

Last night I was inspired to write a blog, a ranty, angry blog, about whitesplaining, by a thread on the facebook feed of a friend who I admire greatly.  “What is that?” I hear my loyal yet surprisingly unaware reader cry.  Then, logging on this morning I saw that the white supremacist POTUS Donald Trump had given his State of the Union address (in short, not the best state it’s been in, in my opinion) in which he stated that the rates of unemployment for Black people in the United States had dropped to an all-time low and that he was taking credit for this.

The faces of the Congressional Black Caucus, who attended according to CBC Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to “stare racism in the face”, say it all.  Watching as the least popular president in historical record takes credit for the hard work and achievements of the previous POTUS, Barack Obama; watching as Trump does not even acknowledge his 1 point drop is riding on the coattails of the 9 point drop in unemployment Obama’s government earned.  Not a clap, not a smile, not a nod of approval or acknowledgement of Trump’s words, as he whitesplains at, and erases history all over, the attendees.

CBC listening to Trump Jan 2018

My friend made a post specifically asking people of colour to respond to her query, which was about the Me Too movement and whether they felt included or excluded from what has been happening in recent months.

Simple query, specific in direction, and a fabulous opportunity to learn from people as they comment and provide teachable moments, I thought.  I’m white, I have no business commenting on anything in that thread as I don’t have the experience, knowledge, understanding or comprehension of the experiences of people of colour as I am white and have benefited from white privilege all my life, I thought.  The first step in learning is to sit down, shut up, open my ears and mind and listen, I thought.  Even if I have specific knowledge, it is still not my place to speak as I respect my friend and her request (as I would in any discussion in which I have the privilege which is being discussed) and want to learn, I thought.

I watched and read and marvelled in horror at some of the comments that were made.  White women giving their opinions and stating the comments, thoughts and experiences of people of colour in the thread were wrong because…. Well, it doesn’t matter what the reasoning was, it was whitesplaining.  Just because you may have friends, family, loved ones or children who are defined as and seen as ‘of colour’ does not mean you, or I, or anyone as a white person can speak on behalf of the lives, the testimonies, of people of colour.

The sheer arrogance and effrontery that my friend was confronted with, from people she had known, it seems, for a very long time, was boggling to my mind.  They didn’t listen; they took offence at being called out, they blocked the discussion, they spat their opinions and shut the conversation down.  They allowed for no rebuttal.  It is my white privilege that I don’t have this talking over of my racial experience, because mine is the dominant one.  My experience is the default racial experience.  It is the experience society assumes we all have and we most definitely don’t.

Whitesplaining is an empowering term which is used to minimise the very real damage that is done by white people seeking to insert themselves into a conversation, an experience and an understanding that we simply do not have.

Would a GP perform surgery?  Would a historian teach mathematics?  Would a musician be appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer? If polymaths, perhaps, but in general terms no.  Even if you have related expertise such as intersectional experiences of oppression (in my case, disability and gender) that does not mean you are in any way qualified to talk about the experiences you have no expertise in or knowledge of.

Worse than that, by talking over, around and through the voices you should be listening to, you are missing the opportunity to really learn.  You are stomping on the fertile ground of growth.  You are whitesplaining society into a position of continued oppression and white supremacy.

Don’t be that person.  Sit down, shut up and be thankful that anyone who has spent their lifetimes being oppressed by people who look just like you is willing to try and help you out of the bigotry you and society are in.

No-one owes us white people a lesson, we have no right to expect to be treated with calmness, care and respect when you consider that oppression kills our brothers and sisters who do not have the same white skin as us.  If you cannot understand the anger that exists in the hearts of the oppressed, you really haven’t been paying attention, and yet still we are provided with myriad opportunities to learn.

And yet still we whitesplain all over them.  Friends, family, people we care about, we whitesplain their lives.  If it makes me livid, me as a white woman whose privilege means I can ignore such rudeness if I choose, I can only imagine how angry it makes those who are being silenced.

Sit down.  Shut up.  If in doubt about your conduct in any way, sit down, shut up and learn.

how-to-be-an-ally

Musings on Death

It is seismic in effect.  Death reshapes the world in which we live; the loss of someone alters irrevocably the landscape we navigate.

No matter how little we knew the person, their loss is a shaking of our world, a removal from the interactions we have day to day.  The nearer we were to them, the closer we held them in our hearts, the larger the earthquake and more visceral the twisting of our environment.

Even the most distant of deaths, the passing of famous people who we have never met but whose work has touched us to our core, or of brief acquaintances who we passed as ships in the night, will affect our lives, our landscape, our emotional environment.

A person who was kind to us in a moment, whose passing we learn of in passing, may shake us and we do not know why.  It is their action we mourn, the loss of a person whose influence was positive, who taught us a way of being we wish to emulate.

The dying of the light that had however briefly illuminated our path will remap our personal sphere.

It is for that we mourn.  For the effect the lack of their presence in the world has on us and on those we love who mourn with us although they may not know it; the lack of those departed that makes the world a dimmer place.

We feel guilt with the grief; guilt that we mourn and we feel we have no right to.  We did not know them, we were not loved by them and our grief is inappropriate, intrusive, unnecessary.

But we do have a right to.  We have a right to feel, to grieve, to lament their loss.

Grief is always personal. It may surprise us when it comes, it may be a reflection of other grief unspent, it may be a bemoaning of specific loss, but whatever it is, it is okay.  It is not inappropriate, it is not wrong.

It is merely ours, and it is borne of love, and love, unconditional and unrequited as it may be, is never wrong.

I love, and I will grieve, and I will hurt, and I will mourn and remember.  I will light a candle in my heart and raise a glass at the wake, which may be held only by me.

And I will accept myself in that grief as humane.  I will allow that grief is love.

It is my gift, to myself, to permit my feelings their pathway.

And I will grow from it.

I will love.

I will grieve.

And I will love again.

Candle

How Not To Sexually Assault or Harass Someone

The ‘Me Too’ movement was started by Tarana Burke, a USA-based activist, in 2007.  It was when Alyssa Milano, a USA-based actor, tweeted Me Too as a hashtag that it gained traction in the media, and one cannot fail to have seen the newspaper reports, social media articles and publicity surrounding the hashtag and the testimonies of those who have experienced assault and/or harassment.

Myriad are the excuses/reasons/woe-is-me-I-didn’t-know posts and validating posts popping up from nowhere.  How dare we change the rules?!  They didn’t KNOW they were assaulting or harassing someone, it wasn’t thought of then.

Excuses don’t wash with me.  Racism used to be legal and encouraged, people didn’t know it was wrong then either, until it was (although some still don’t know but that’s a separate though intersecting blog, and specifically affected the #MeToo campaign as it didn’t get popularised until white people started doing so and what’s all that crap about anyway, black women are far more at risk statistically and we ignore their plight due to our white privilege…? I digress, as this could get very TL/DR).

So, let’s go through some of the excuses and I’ll explain why they are utter bullshit misconceived.  The following are paraphrased quotes unless otherwise indicated:

  • “Men don’t know where the line is anymore.”

Then listen to what is being said, listen to how behaviours have made people feel, note that the line is moving, and act accordingly.

  • “we (men) are afraid to hug women now.”

You mean you used to go up to random women and hug them without asking them if they wanted a hug?  This behaviour was never acceptable!  If you are afraid, just ask if you can hug them; they will either say yes or no.  However, if you are in a position of power over them (teacher, Professor, boss, Human Resources manager etc.) don’t hug them.  Ever.

  • “Regretting it after the fact doesn’t make it rape.” – this was a response made to someone who had been drugged and incapacitated.

Regret doesn’t make it rape.  Drugging and incapacitating someone, does.  Are you sure the story you are being told is about regret, because it may very well be about undue pressure and coercion given the context.

  • “(she) failed to say no clearly.”

Define ‘clearly’?  How clearly is clearly?  Do you mean that it has to be a loud, emphatic, vocalised ‘no’ or it doesn’t count? That is very problematic; what about women who cannot speak, or speak a different language, or who indicate ‘no’ through body language (freezing, pushing away, moving away, lack of reciprocation)?  You may not be hearing a ‘no’ but it is very possible one is being communicated.  It is your responsibility to ensure you are receiving a clear and enthusiastic ‘yes’.  That goes for everyone involved in a sexual encounter.

  • “(she) failed to remove herself from a situation that she admitted has happened to her repeatedly in the past yet she expected a different outcome”- this is in reference to incidents which were not with the same person.

Fear can be a very powerful immobiliser, as can shame and embarrassment.  The onus at the moment is on the victim to take responsibility for their actions.   What we are trying to do is to put the responsibility on both parties, on the instigator as well as the instigatee.  The same situation may occur, but if it is not with the same person is it really the same situation?

  • “(she) admits that she was vague in her responses.”

Then the correct response would be to ask for clarity and clarification, not press on ahead regardless on the off-chance she’s into it.  Whatever it is.

  • “(she) failed to take responsibility for her own actions and lack of action”.

As did the perpetrator.  This is victim-blaming 101.

  • “why did she go to his apartment on the first date if she was not interested in sex?”

Why wouldn’t she?  I truly don’t understand this one.  Entering into someone’s home is not consent to sexual activity of any kind.  You could wander into someone’s bedroom, sit on the bed and chat and STILL it would not be consent to any form of sexual activity.  Consent should not be implied, it must be overt.

  • “If I agree to go to a man’s home, or a hotel, or invite him to my home on a first date, I am fully aware that I am signalling that I am interested in sex.”

You may be signalling you are interested.  That does not mean everyone is signalling they are interested in sex, nor that you are unable to change your mind.  We are talking about guidelines as to how not to sexually assault or harass someone, and that means a basic assumption that consent must be clearly given, not signalled by agreeing to go to someone’s home, hotel or your own home.

  • “whatever happened to ‘stop or I’m going to knock you in your nuts?’”

The threat of physical violence against anyone who is already assaulting or harassing you is just as likely to escalate the situation as to get you out of it.  This is basically asking a person who may be terrified to threaten violence against the person who is terrifying them.  It puts the responsibility for stopping the behaviour on the victim, not the perpetrator.

  • “Is this really sexual assault? I can tell you this isn’t a case I’d bring to trial” – quote from a former US Prosecution Attorney.

Given that the vast majority of cases of rape or assault, or even harassment, are not reported, and even those which are tend not to be prosecuted due to the ‘he said/she said’ nature of events, questioning whether something would go to trial and then deeming it not to have happened simply because it would not go to trial is not an acceptable argument to me.  It’s behaviours we need to change, maybe then more might get prosecuted, or less assault/harassment might happen.

  • She previously “had engaged in consensual sex with the …”

Prior consent is not blanket consent.  There is no such thing.  This is how people are trapped into abusive relationships.  No can be said at any time, and must be respected.

  • “if people really cared about the issue, they would call an outside investigator” – i.e. it should have been reported to the relevant authority or it is not assault/harassment.

See my response to the US Prosecution Attorney, above.

  • “a woman will turn down a man’s advances, purely to see if the man is interested enough to keep persuing (sic)” – direct quote.

Then it is the responsibility of the man not to pursue.  If the woman turns down a man, that is the decision and the statement that is to be respected.  If she didn’t mean it, that’s her responsibility and her loss.  Assume the turning down of advances is the truth.  That way you definitely won’t assault/harass or even rape someone.

  • Anyone who has posted or hashtagged ‘Not All Men’.

Yes, we know.  That’s not the point, because Yes, All Women.  Don’t be that person.  That person is part of the problem.  Be a part of the solution.

A recent story concerning a US-American comedian, sums the situation up quite succinctly, in my opinion: “(him) It was fun meeting you last night.” “Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me”. (She) responded. “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances.” She explains why she is telling him how she felt: “I want to make sure you’re aware so maybe the next girl doesn’t have to cry on the ride home.” “I’m so sad to hear this,” he responded. “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.””

Hopefully he has learned from this, and it seems he has.  Hopefully many will learn from this.  It is not an action that I believe should necessitate legal due process, but it is definitely a learning moment.

Many people may not realise they are hurting someone, such as the man who ‘liked’ the #MeToo facebook post of the person he had assaulted, and that is because we are socialised according to our gender with regard to expectations of sexual behaviour and attitudes.

The Independent quoted a study called Violence & Gender (Sarah R. Edwards, PhD, Kathryn A. Bradshaw, MA, and Verlin B. Hinsz, PhD, 2015) which “found multiple cases of men who did not think that rape was rape.  In their findings, 31.7 per cent of men also admitted that in a consequence-free situation they would force a woman to have sex.”  In their minds, forced to have sex does not equate to rape, nor does any non-penetrative act equate to sexual assault or harassment.  Just to make it clear, the question asked referred to ‘forced sex’, not merely ‘sex’.  If they don’t know what rape is, is it any surprise that they don’t know what sexual assault or harassment is?

We need to ensure that at all times informed, enthusiastic, updating consent is repeatedly obtained. Here’s a handy diagram you can print and keep with you, just in case:

I’m also providing this save, cut-out and keep card with regard to how not to rape.  Or, you could print it and put it up in your local bar, student union, pub, restaurant, library, halls of residence, anywhere where people meet:

Read.Learn.Live By.

Courtesy of https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk, from where you can obtain posters/cards

I am not asking for the criminalisation of acts or the prosecution of those being named in various media outlets (well, not all of them, the acts described are myriad and some most definitely should be prosecuted).  I’m not asking for pillorying of people who may have assaulted or harassed people in the past, without knowing.

I am making a plea for the teaching and use of informed, enthusiastic, updating consent by all parties.  If there is any doubt, discontinue your actions/words/intimations.  If you are at all unsure or confused, stop.  There is no excuse, nor should there be, for harassing/assaulting someone!  This applies to everyone and it’s time pleading ignorance was no longer an acceptable way of getting away with it.

If the action/words/intimations cause pain or hurt, then stop.  This is a re-education, past mistakes are in the past.  What is important now is how we choose to behave in the future.  #MeToo has shown how widespread and varied sexual misconduct can be.

Don’t choose a false sense of entitlement over the real possibility of causing pain.  You may make mistakes, but  learn from them, take responsibility for them and move forward being better, for all our sakes.

Disabling the Economy

“Huh?” I hear all two of my loyal readers say, under their breath lest they should disturb their imaginary friend from their shenaniganning.  What? It’s a word.

Well, when debating about the reduced level of UK economic productivity on Wednesday 6th December in the Treasury Select Committee meeting, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond(Eggs) stated (transcript here):

“It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”Phillip Hammond & Theresa May

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas challenged this discriminatory statement and asked Theresa May, as Prime Minister and person with overall responsibility for her cabinet, to apologise and confirm the government does not believe disabled people are detrimental to the workforce as Mr Hammond’s comments imply, Ms May simply stated that:

“Actually the Chancellor did not express the views that she claims that he was expressing. This is a government that values the contribution disabled people make to our society and our economy and the workplace.”

I am pretty sure I am not the only person who nearly fell out of their seat in shock at Ms May(hem)’s blatant restructuring of the truth.  I’m trying to laugh at her about it.  I’m failing.

This government has an appalling record with regard to policy on disability issues.  Thousands of people living with myriad forms of disabling conditions have died as a result of the changes to the benefits system; 2,380 between 2011 and 2014 alone. ).  As for those who are in work, this figure has risen from 2.9million in 2013 to 3.5million in late 2016; from 44.2% to 49.5% of all disabled people of working age according to the Office of National Statistics.

But let’s take a closer look at what appears to be a positive statistic.  The ‘employed’ category includes anyone who has worked in paid employment for one hour or more in the week in which the statistical evidence was collected; yes, one hour.  Anyone on a zero hours contract, anyone working part-time, and anyone who is not counted as unemployed – given the wholesale rejigging of the benefits system, I’d be interested to see exactly how many disabled people that includes and how disproportionate it may be in comparison to able-bodied people in such types of employment, but sadly that figure does not seem to exist.

What’s more, those people with learning disabilities form markedly fewer employed people in this analysis.  7.1% (2011-12) of those registered with local authorities used to be in paid employment.  That figure is now just 5.8%.

Tory government policies are making chronic conditions actively worse by increasing stress levels, removing mobility aids (effectively removing disabled people from the job-seeking pool), cutting benefits available to help disabled people into work, changing the rules so disabled people don’t even count as ‘unemployed’ (although the Government has done that for myriad groupings, so the figures are properly massaged and misrepresentative – many have died since the Tories took power under David Cameron and he ran off to let Theresa May deal with the fall-out), and closing down the facilities that were set up to help disabled people get back into work.

It is not disabled people who are having a detrimental effect on the economy; the economy is having a detrimental effect on disabled people.

What exactly does ‘disabled’ mean anyway?  There are so many different conditions, syndromes, illnesses, chronic and acute, which have a life-limiting and/or shortening effect on those who are living with them.  It is a catch-all term which groups together a disparate number of people under an umbrella genus which has resulted in questions formed by officialdom which cannot actually be answered!  For example, when being interviewed for my free travel pass I am asked what I am like on my worst day – well, for which condition?  I have six chronic conditions, three of which come under the category ‘disabled’, one of which has a particular effect on my day-to-day life.  It is the osteoarthritis that has the most detrimental effect on my life at the moment.  I can work full-time, but the travel pass enables me to plan in advance knowing I will be able to get to work and home again if nothing else, but some days I am fine with walking and on my worst day I have had to hire a mobility scooter!

There are others whose conditions are far more life-limiting, those whose conditions are stable and unchanging, those whose conditions cause intellectual delay and/or restricted development, those who cannot work to a timetable because their bodies don’t work to a timetable… the differentiation goes on!

What disability really means is that society does not enable people who are in any way restricted to access all aspects of life which a ‘normal’ person can access.  The person with the condition is not disabled, they become disabled by the limitations of society.No Access

At the moment, places need to be adapted to be accessible; it is not even considered that homes or workplaces, or even benefit offices should be accessible to those with limitations.  This seems to me to be backwards thinking.  We ALL will end up with limitations in our lives, should we be lucky enough to live that long.  Everywhere should be automatically accessible, from inception.

A few ideas for en-abling society:

  • Instead of having to convert property to be accessible, make it accessible from the first architects drawing.
  • Pay a living (not minimum) wage to all.
  • Have firms offer flexi-time as a standard for all positions, enabling people with chronic pain for example to plan their working week.
  • Job-share as a standard for full-time positions should be standard also.
  • Have assessors for the new PIP scheme be trained and familiar with conditions, or if they are not, actually pay attention to and believe what the medical reports provided by the claimants say. GPs/Consultants don’t lie.
  • Publicise the Access To Work scheme a damn sight more than at the moment, to employers as well as potential employees.

Far from disabling the economy, it is society as a whole that chooses to disable people.  In doing so, surely the bare minimum that could be expected that those society disables should be supported?  We are all capable of far more than we are allowed to express; whether ‘disabled’ or ‘able-bodied’.  Why should it be acceptable that society should limit certain of us, especially as those are the very people who should receive the support so often denied.

For further reading on disability issues (activism and experience), try these blogs:
https://crippledscholar.com/
https://spoonshortagesue.wordpress.com/
http://www.francescamartinez.com/en/d1/Enter-Site-https://dpac.uk.net/category/disability-activism/
https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org

 

There is No Excuse: Sexual Harassment & Assault

Unless you have been living under a rock and have had no human contact for the last six months, you cannot have failed to notice the huge number of rich and powerful men being confronted by women and men they have sexually harassed and/or assaulted in the past.

Yet still people are making excuses for it, and I intend to deal with them one by one, starting with the least shocking excuse perpetuated most recently by Morrissey (I’m not shocked he’d make an excuse, but that’s another story belonging to another person), head caterwauler, misery-guts and ego-in-charge for The Smiths (can you tell I was never a fan?):

  1. The victim is merely disappointed, as reported by German magazine Spiegel and as translated by AV Club – “Morrissey says that the whole thing has become “a play,” and that the definition of sexual harassment has become so broad that “every person on this planet is guilty.”It may be that every person on the planet IS guilty in action or inaction.  That does not mean those who perpetrate should not be brought to account.  The volume of accounts coming forward, and the myriad accused, is not a sign that it should not be taken seriously.  It is a sign that it is being taken seriously, at last.

    Nor is it an accusation made because the abuser did not follow through with whatever promises were made on the ‘casting couch’ (a term which has been widespread and understood for almost 100 years, and which has helped normalise the abuse suffered by thousands).  That is a revolting suggestion and an attempt to put abuse on par with sex work.  It ignores the issue of consent (more on that below).  Frankly, it’s something that tends to be said by people in power who are abuser.

  2.  Dirty Old Man (AKA that pervy Uncle we all ‘knew’ about and were warned to avoid or told to put up with at parties.
    That person who hugged too long, insisted on a ‘kiss on the lips’, who was a little be too ‘handsy’; I’m sure if we think back we will all be able to remember one.  Many women I’m sure can think of that teacher that they all avoided or had tactics in place to ensure no-one was left alone with.  We knew it was wrong then.  It is only now we can talk about it, we can complain about it, and we can be taken seriously.
  3. Lie detector tests prove it didn’t happen.At least one of those accused and reported about in the media has taken a lie detector test and passed, which he claims indicates he is innocent of all accusations.  That does not take into account how lie detectors work.  The clue is in the name; it detects lies.  If a person believes they are innocent of the accusations, then they will pass because they are telling the truth when they say they didn’t assault or harass anyone.  It’s what they believe.  There is a reason why lie detector tests are not admissible in court.
  4. They (the accusers) are just after what they can gain/want fame/money etc.Given the pillorying they are getting, along with a lot of support it is true, and the fact that many have found their careers already suppressed or destroyed, I fail to see how they are gaining anything in coming forward about the abuse they have suffered.  This is simply not true and is a repulsive way of silencing anyone who may want to come forward about their experiences.
  5. Being a love/sex addict means they are not responsible for their actions.This misunderstands the fundamental nature of an addiction (and indeed there is debate as to whether love/sex addiction is an actual condition).  Addiction is harmful to the addict.  The addict is not in control whereas the abuser very much is, that is the point of the power play.

For more reading about the misconceptions surrounding sexual harassment and assault, the University of Michigan has produced this very useful article.

I’m not going to list all those accused to date, as the list will grow longer as people finally accept that this behaviour was NEVER acceptable and the change is in the empowering of those victimised to speak up and know the support and belief is there.

As for the laws, here are few graphs to show how prevalent workplace harassment is, where it is explicitly prohibited and against whom, and what you can do (contact the police, Unions, Rape Crisis centres or your human resources department in your country/company as relevant – graph featured is according to the US-based EEOC and has good basic advice).

There is No Excuse-Harassment & Assault landscape

Seldom is there only one accuser, only one person victimised by a perpetrator.  Many of those who were victimised may not even realise it, so ingrained is our attitude towards gendered sexual expression.  It took me years to realise I had been harassed, and it is only since this came up do I realise that perhaps one incident I describe may be assault.  Amnesty UK published the results of their recent survey into online abuse and harassment, and it is sobering reading.  It’s all related and it all enables abusers and harassers to carry on, regardless.

The majority of us have always known this type of behaviour was wrong, as shown by the ‘excuses’ listed above.  The only thing that is changing is that the perpetrators are being confronted and are finally facing the long awaited consequences for their behaviour.  No longer are the excuses acceptable.

Everyone should be looking at their past behaviour because I am very sure whatever your gender there may be incidents that cause you pause for thought.  This will be the behaviour of men under the patriarchal assumption of entitlement to sexual activity towards the object of their attraction, and for women it will be their behaviour under the patriarchal assumption that men always want and/or are ready for sexual activity of whatever kind.

Informed, enthusiastic and updating consent is a fairly new concept for discussion and moves the No Means No campaign along further.  It recognises that those victimised may not be able to, nor capable of, saying no at that moment in time.  For many, the entitlement to say no was not one that may have been understood to exist!

Enthusiastic, Informed, Updating Consent:

  • Means having all the information one feels is necessary to oneself in order to give informed consent.  Ask questions and expect answers.
  • Means giving all the information one feels is necessary to oneself in order to receive informed consent. Expect questions and give answers.
  • Means honest open communication.
  • Means understanding that consent must be updated; a yes for one activity is not a yes for all.
  • Means knowing anyone under any form of duress (e.g. emotional or physically abusive relationship) directly related to the situation cannot give informed consent.
  • Means knowing anyone very intoxicated on whatever substance they cannot give informed consent, especially https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/zmzq48/addiction-is-not-an-excuse-for-sexual-assaultif they are unconscious.
  • Means knowing anyone who is very intoxicated may also not be able to understand whether they have received informed consent or not; be wary of this and don’t become an abuser/rapist. If you feel intoxicated or in any way unsure of your judgement, do not have sex or do not proceed with whatever activity requires consent.
  • Means never assuming consent has been given.
  • Means understanding yes may not mean yes and no definitely means no.
  • Means you are allowed to say no and you do not have to give reasons.
  • Means erring on the side of caution – if you are not 100% positive then you should assume consent has not been given.
  • Means respecting a person’s autonomy – no-one has a right to sex or to consent. It doesn’t matter how much you spent on them or what your expectations may be.  There is no such thing as entitlement.
Informed, enthusiastic consent.

Handy little chart – cut out and keep!

There is NO excuse for overstepping the line.  None.  If you are not sure if you may be pushing it, then you probably are and should stop.   If you see something and have even the slightest doubt about what is going on, step in.

There is no excuse.

Murder by Toxic Masculinity

For some strange reason *coughRELIGION/PATRIARCHY/CAPITALISMcough* characteristics which define personalities have long since been assigned to specific genders, and any behaviour which is not perceived to be fitting to the gender a person presents results in them being discriminated against, abused and harassed.

Feminism has long fought against patriarchy but is butting its head against that same glass ceiling which suppresses women when trying to show how it affects men detrimentally, to the point of killing them through suicide and all people through violence.  Strong words, you may think, so let’s see what exactly does define ‘masculinity’ and what effect that has.

masculinity-word-association.Feministing

word cloud care of feministing.com

Men* are supposed to be strong and preferably tall, be imposing or at the very least have a physical presence, unemotional (definitely no crying!), independent, the wage-earner and provider for their (nuclear) family, responsible decision-makers, be courageous, sexually virile if not promiscuous (but only with cisgender women), aggressive, active, logical, rational and disciplined, and to be self-reliant leaders.

There is also nothing within this list which should specifically pertain to a gender and the enactment of those characteristics to the exclusion of and discrimination against those who do not comply to the masculine norm restricts the roles and lives men can live.

Don’t get me wrong, patriarchy benefits men far more than it inhibits them.  Intersectional privilege mean that white able-bodied straight-presenting educated and wealthy men benefit far more than any other class of men.  However, patriarchal enforcement of masculine characteristics is dangerous and deadly.

Men who do not act in the way they are supposed, by seeking a job in a caring profession for example, or by shying away from violence or being victims of domestic or street violence themselves, or by being attracted to same gender partners, or by suffering from mental health problems, or in any way not being the strong, tough, independent ‘real man’, will suffer.  Male suicide is reaching epidemic proportions; it is now one of the top three killers of men. Worldwide, in 2015 men made up two thirds of the suicide figures.  The World Health Organisation has reported that the highest risk group for suicide is young men between 25 and 44, and is the second leading cause of death for all people aged between 15 and 29.  In the UK, men killed themselves at three times the rate of women.  In the Republic of Ireland, the rate is five times higher.

As for violent acts committed against others, one need only look at the reports coming in daily on terrorist acts, acts of domestic violence, and street violence, to see that men commit such crimes at a far higher rate than women; the figures are disproportionate to any claim that gender has nothing to do with it.  We cannot expect men to express aggressive go-getting behaviours and then be shocked when they act out that aggression in negative ways.

Between 1974 and 2016 there were 2,360 suicide terrorist attacks throughout the world committed by men, murdering 21,707 people.  In the same time period there were 221 attacks by women, murdering 2,286 people.

That is only just less ten times the rate of terrorist attack by men than by women.

The discussion about the tragedy toxic masculinity is wreaking on society is becoming increasingly open, and there are places to which men can now go and seek help with mental health issues online** and in person, but still we teach our male-presenting children to conform to masculine ideals.  A new-born boy is complimented with being ‘big’, ‘strong’, ‘handsome’ and ‘clever’; his parent’s ‘little man’.  His parents will be told their son will many girl’s hearts when he gets older.  I recommend you have a wander around the gendered clothing and toy aisles in supermarkets and clothing stores to see how differently and restrictively the genders are treated (that gender may not be a binary fact of life is not even conceived of!).  By the time the child is ready for school, he will already be exhibiting the gendered characteristics that were not showing when a baby.  They will have been socialised into him and he will already in a gender box (albeit a far bigger one than his sister).

This boxing of the male gender is killing them and it is killing us.  Characteristics are simply that, characteristics.  That we have decided they belong to a penis or a vagina, to an XY or an XX chromosome, is utterly ridiculous and would be laughable if it wasn’t so damaging.

We need to stop assigning men and women specific characteristics according to gender.  Characteristics are simply ways of being a person, and we are all a bundle of different characteristics.  There is no such thing as a characteristic which is only exhibited by one gender; that simply does not exist.

Toxic masculinity needs to end; it’s killing us all.

* as defined by presenting in society as of the male sex and inclusive of cisgender and transgender identities.

** UK – https://www.thecalmzone.net/

http://tasc-uk.org/male-suicide/

https://ex.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health

USA – the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255

http://www.spsamerica.org/considering-suicide

Worldwide

Phone app – HOW TO HELP PEOPLE http://www.suicidepreventionapp.com/about

In many countries – http://www.befrienders.org/

gender-fluidity

There is no gender characteristic binary except that which we impose.

Please Offer Me a Seat

Last night, for the first time in the four months almost to the day that I have been wearing my Raspberry* Badge (as I call it, having finally been trained by Sooterkin™ and Brother-Wife™ that it is not cockney rhyming slang when you actually use the word which rhymes as a shorthand), someone noticed it and stood up for me so I could sit in a seat on public transport.  It wasn’t a seat specifically for disabled/elderly/people-with-children, those were occupied already, but it was a seat which I needed.

Me with blue badge TFLLovelyYoungMan (as he shall henceforth be known) moved only when a mother with a child started to wake her child up to put on her lap so I could sit, and his conscience was stirred.  LYM apologised profusely, and said he’d noticed my badge and had been staring at it but had not twigged what it actually meant.  He may have blushed.  It was quite sweet!

I don’t blame LYM for not knowing what it meant, nor do I blame the myriad others who have clearly read the badge but ignored it completely; it’s entirely possible they had simply drifted into a reverie as I often do and the words did not penetrate their consciousness.  A walking stick has better luck in gaining the possessor access to the seats specifically put aside for disabled passengers in that it is more clearly visible, but I have watched the faces of those who have read the badge, looked at me and just looked away.  Not all of them are disabled too.

There has been no publicity with regard to the new badges made available to help those of us with invisible disabilities and/or chronic pain conditions and/or mobility issues (not always the same thing).  I chat with many fellow raspberries and inform them of the badge and how to apply for it, and not a single one of them has known about it prior to meeting me.

Seats taken up by bags is a very common sight on buses, and I need two buses each way on my commute to and from work so this is a definite and ongoing problem for me.  It seems people don’t realise that disabled people can work and therefore might need the space to sit in order to actually get to work.  Ironic in a political climate which is attacking disabled people to the point that they are unable to receive sufficient benefits to survive and are therefore forced to work (even if they are unable to do so or their conditions are unable to submit themselves to the strict timetabling work generally employs) or to die.

 

Bag on seat 1

Not a bag, but an oddly shaped child called M’Tarquinias.  Or something.

Both of the women in these pictures noticed me.  Both ignored me, after the one in the left picture gave me a dirty look at the sound of the click of my mobile phone as it took the picture (I feel no guilt, she is not identifiable from this image)!  Both women were capable of having their little bags on their laps and allowing a disabled person (or elderly person, or parent with child, as these seats are for them too) to sit on that seat.  These people I feel are just rude and thoughtless.  Many schoolchildren use ‘spare’ seats as bag rests too, but are quick to move the bag when asked, even if with a heavy sigh of hard-done-by-poor-me.  Neither of these women moved their bags.

Bag on seat 2

Also not a bag, but a dog that has had extensive plastic surgery.  Probably.

I had the badge on for both occasions, and as you can see from the top picture I wear it prominently where it is obvious and easy to read.  The same has happened many more times than I can count, when I was still unable to sit in the disabled seats.  On one of the aforementioned occasions I managed to get a seat further back by hauling my pain-filled carcass up the steps to climb into them, yet many people were still standing including others who were elderly, parents or visibly disabled.

Clearly, awareness of the existence of the badge is required, as is how to apply for it**.  Moreover though, it appears an acknowledgement and understanding of the variety of disabilities and the needs of those with them is also required before people will take notice of it.  On the plus side, due to the invisibility of my mobility issues the badge does mean that if I am sat in the seats for disabled people, I am not questioned or glared at or talked at/down/to in a derogatory manner for my mere presence in the area!

So, if you see anyone wearing this badge, and you are sitting down in the disabled area, or indeed if you are sat in any other area of the bus, please do offer them your seat.  They are not wearing the badge for a joke, I promise you, and they do really need to sit down!

*Raspberry Ripple = cripple.   Only disabled/differently-abled should use this, otherwise it may be considered discriminatory and negative. Unless you are friends with raspberries and are using it in a context which all those with you understand clearly to be an affectionate term with permitted usage by said raspberry!  It’s all about the context in which the term is used.

**Apply for the badge here: https://tfl.gov.uk/campaign/please-offer-me-a-seat